Local shop brings a stitch of tradition to the community fabric.
Needlepoint has been woven into people’s lives for thousands of years. Today, its colorful stiches can be incorporated into almost any household decoration, from pillows and framed art to stockings, ornaments, upholstery and more.
A form of embroidery that involves yarn being stitched through an open-weave canvas, this craft can be done with meticulous hands of any age, crafting a landscape, pattern or anything of the artist’s choosing to make a beloved piece of art.
Digging into the resources at the American Craft Council provided by Beth Godrich—a librarian at this national nonprofit organization—provided a small glimpse into the history of this handicraft.
The origins of needlepoint can be traced back to ancient Egypt. Their traditional stitches were called half-crossed stitch, described as a simple diagonal stitch. To this day, the half-cross stitch, also known as the tent stitch, is the most popular stitch for needlepoint and is the foundation of learning in order to master needlepoint. Over time, this hobby spread to European countries and eventually to the United States. Needlepoint’s popularity initially took off in the 17th century, and in the past several years, it has seen a surge in popularity among a younger audience eager to discover screen-free hobbies.
For The Picket Fence needlepoint shop in Edina, the history of needlepoint in this family-owned business runs deep with tradition, as well. Edina resident Ginny Mahoney is the current owner, but the shop was started by her mother-in-law and mother-in-law’s sister in 1972. It was from these women that Mahoney learned everything about needlepoint as a young woman. She eventually grew to love it so much that she took over the family business in 2015 and now runs the store with her daughter.
“When I was a young mother, my mother-in-law taught me how to needlepoint. I was 26 … I just fell in love with it as soon as I learned how to do it,” Mahoney says. “When I took over the store, my daughter Molly, who I was pregnant with when I was learning to needlepoint, [became] my assistant. It is very special.”
The store is a beloved destination for many Twin Cities residents who have a passion for needlepoint or want to get started in this hobby. Here, novices and aficionados alike can purchase hand-painted canvases, a multitude of colorful yarn and all other necessary supplies. “These canvases can be hand-designed in our shop, or people can buy one of our hundreds of canvases that already are complete,” Mahoney says.
Dedicated in-house artists create original and custom hand-painted canvases for stitchers to bring to life. Mahoney says that needlepoint artist Ruth Ann Fleming, who’s in her 90s, has worked at the store for 45 years. Mahoney’s mother-in-law first hired needlepoint artist Mary Louise Pivec as a teenager to work at the store; decades later, Pivec has made this unique type of artistry her lifelong career. Both women can create custom designs of just about anything—from a pet’s portrait or children’s faces to family homes, crests, favorite sports, school logos and more. “We have everything under the sun when it comes to canvases,” Mahoney says.
The Picket Fence also provides a teacher in-store to help customers master the foundations of the craft. “We also have a lot of great books, [online] videos and resources available for people to reference to get started on their needlepoint journey,” Mahoney says. And if you’ve completed your canvas but need help finishing it for display, the store’s staff can help with that, too.
The unique canvases and staff support of The Picket Fence are world-renowned; Mahoney says they sell all over the country, as well as internationally; just recently she packaged an order that came in from Istanbul.
Mahoney notes that once a customer starts needlepoint, the tradition is often passed on. “It is such a tradition for my customers … We’ve been in business long enough to have at least four generations of stitchers come in,” she says. “I have one big family that had a grandmother that stitched 12-inch high nutcrackers and gave [them] to [her] grandchildren every year. When she passed, they lined up hundreds of those stitched nutcrackers in honor of her.”
At the Picket Fence, the tradition of needlepoint—and the community it creates—lives on in the owners, employees and every customer that walks in the door, new or old.